Downtown Durham

Potential redevelopment opportunities along the Duke Belt Line: an analysis of appropriate site location, current conditions, and financial considerations

2017 James Webb Award for best Master’s project in area of placemaking and real estate development and design

Allen Wood

Wood’s project examines the various real estate redevelopment opportunities provided by urban trail infrastructure, using Durham’s future Duke Belt Line (DBL) as an example case. The DBL is a project envisioned to reuse and repurpose an area long neglected and anticipates social and economic stimulation. While the rise of American tobacco manufacturing led to the emergence of Durham, its decline also gave way to Durham’s decline in the mid-twentieth century. Disruptive urban renewal efforts and erratic growth patterns led to a Durham whose street grids and arterial roads are inconsistent and lack provisions for pedestrian travel. This study considers the risks, challenges, and opportunities of any future development around the DBL.

Possible development strategies bear distinct risks and benefits. Infill development often entails the recycling of vacant or underutilized lands within cities and suburbs, which contributes to an efficient use of land and infrastructure. While it may aid in conserving environmental resources and increasing economic investment, fragmented ownership and high capital costs can deter advancement. Brownfield development involves even more risks, as it comprises the redevelopment of a property complicated by potentially harmful substances, pollutants, or contaminants. Converting such areas into green development projects are advantageous, but it can be plagued by issues concerning environmental liability, financial barriers, and cleanup considerations.

Rails-to-trails development seeks to simplify and encourage non-motor trips and decrease road congestion, emissions, and public costs. The benefits of creating pedestrian trails include increases in public health, environmental conservation, and improved alternative travel patterns. Common problems that arise from attempting such development are contingent on a city’s urban form, which often are biased for motor travel and lack the appropriate infrastructure for a bicycle and pedestrian environment. Similarly, wellness-oriented development is focused on the impact of the environment on physical and mental health, with the premise of providing greenways in order to decrease the burden of health costs to the community overall. It contends that a city’s design plays a significant role in individual wellness and that creating greenways will promote active lifestyles.

Trail-oriented development (TrOD) is influenced by the development strategies above and may be the most effective for future DBL development opportunities. Recent trends indicate a departure from past automobile-influenced urban forms, with an increasing number of Americans prioritizing walkability when choosing living arrangements. Wood makes use of three distinct case studies with differing TrOD structures to guide future DBL planning. Findings emphasize the importance of project proximity around existing trails, providing plenty of physical connections to the trail, and using a mixed-use development plan to target a broader range of possible users and consumers.

Wood splits the area of the DBL into three study areas for examination. Durham land is divided into development tiers by the UDO, each of which is associated with different allowable uses and densities. These different tiers allow for a mix of uses and contextualize various development opportunities. All study areas are analyzed with regards to topography, environmental conditions, land-use, real estate development pipelines, median income, and potential redevelopment opportunities.

Development proposals are then presented for two sites: The Mills and Pearl Mill Townhomes. The proposals aim to incorporate trail-oriented development findings and analyze both the risks and opportunities concerning development along the DBL as well as site characteristics and environmental concerns.

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